Category Archives: Advertising

Live tweeting and good television go hand in hand

A colleague wanting to learn more about Twitter recently asked: If someone is watching a show on TV, then why would they also follow live tweets on Twitter during the show?

Good question. Three words: Sopranos season finale.

(If you’re familiar with the season finale of The Sopranos, this post will make a little more sense than if you aren’t.)

People love to be part of a conversation, group or movement. As Martin Lindstrom says in Buyology, followers “feel honored to be members of [a brand’s] fold.” This goes for anything from a car to a television show to a civic group.

So although we watch shows on television alone (or with a few other people at most, generally), it’s a collective activity when millions are watching the same thing at the same time. When something happens on a show, we want to gasp, or laugh, or say “OMG,” and see if others who are watching feel the same way, saw the same thing, or can offer some clever insight.

And Twitter has given us that capability.

Twitter was just a baby in June 2007 when the Sopranos season finale aired. While there might have been some activity then, if that finale aired today, Twitter would shut down because of tweet overload. Instead, we texted. Blogging started almost immediately, but imagine the conversations that could have taken place on Twitter.

The collective feeling Sopranos finale viewers had during the show is what drives television viewers to hop on Twitter to see what’s being said about what they’re watching at that moment.

The concept applies to television shows across the board. Live tweeting during television shows can be organic (as it would have been with The Sopranos, given HBO secretiveness about the finale) or part of an integrated marketing plan, such as CNN does with nearly all of its programs.

It’s a bandwagon marketers have to jump on, and they are: In an April 2011 post, Digital Buzz Blog reports from a Microsoft Tag study release that 86% of mobile Internet users use their devices while watching TV.

In an article from TIME’s Techland blog, it’s reported that, according to a small-scale study conducted by IPG Media Lab and YuMe, 60 percent of television watchers fidgeted with their cell phones while plopped in front of the TV and 33 percent used their laptops.

Be observant next time you’re watching your favorite television show. Chances are, a hashtag exists in the corner of the screen. Good recent example: Nicki Minaj on Good Morning America. GMA created the hashtag #GMAMinaj. Go online and see what fans said while watching the performance.

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Billboards: yes, no, maybe?

Accepting billboards as an effective advertising avenue is a constant struggle for me, especially so in the last four years as a higher education marketer. In fact, they confound me so much I hope I can even make a coherant blog post about them.

The thing is: in theory, they should be really effective. In reality, I just don’t know if they are. There are rules, exceptions, and a lot of “ifs” when it comes to proving that your billboard ad is effective. But what are the rules? And the exceptions to those?

I’ve found that billboards are effective in trying to convey a single message to a mass audience: read this book, visit this festival, drink this beer, reserve your seats for this show. Trying to convey a deeper message, such as the essence of a university or the charm of an entire town, is a bit harder.

One billboard I see often in my travels that I think is great is a simple one that has the image of Pepsi’s logo. No text, no presence of the word “Pepsi.” Talk about brand saturation: a survey would likely show that most folks recognize Pepsi’s logo when they see it. The billboard is suggesting, without saying it, you want a Pepsi.  Oh, and look, there’s a gas station just ahead. Billboard effectiveness is all about placement, too.

Measuring the effectiveness of a billboard is the most frustrating part. It’s damn near impossible. If there’s a call to action on the billboard (go to this micro site, text this number for a free t-shirt, call here for more info) it at least allows a marketer to measure something. On the other hand, just because someone didn’t follow the call to action doesn’t mean the billboard’s message didn’t sink in.

Here are a few billboards I’ve noticed lately, for better or for worse:

  • Thumbs down: Insurance companies love the billboards with photos of insurance agents. This isn’t very effective. I see where they’re going; they’re trying to personalize their service with a friendly face. These faces are often, well, awkward, and just might do less for the brand than not having the billboard at all.
  • Thumbs up: I don’t think any company could have more reason to utilize billboards than McDonalds. And they do it very well. The only suggestion I have is to place your consumer. That is, let drivers know how far away the next McDonalds is. Once you hook ’em with the promise of a 49-cent ice cream cone, let them know how long they have to wait before they get one.

What’s the best and/or worst billboard you’ve seen lately?

Create, find, establish, take, shave: Five PR strategies for BP

Ever since I purchased my first new car—a 2008 Honda Accord in July 2008—I’ve always filled her up with BP gasoline. In fact, I can remember the first time I didn’t use BP; it was more than a year later, in the fall of 2009, somewhere in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night, and I didn’t have a choice. And throughout the rest of the almost two years and 35,000 miles I’ve had her, I’ve bought gasoline somewhere other than BP probably five times.

Why? That’s a good question, actually. I remember reading in my car’s manual that low-grade gasoline isn’t healthy for your car. I also trusted BP as a longstanding brand. I reacted positively to BP’s marketing strategies and to the fact that there’s a BP station just about anywhere (except in that particular empty part of Missouri). The pleasant green of their brand is easily recognizable. I found comfort in that and also in knowing I was a loyal customer, part of a small group.

So now, as a consumer, I don’t know what to do. A Facebook group created about a week ago called “Boycott BP” offers their advice to 5,646 fans: “Boycott BP stations until the spill is cleaned up!” Will halting the purchase of BP gasoline for the next several months (that’s a conservative estimate) allow the oil off the coast of Louisiana to be cleaned up more quickly? Presumably, BP isn’t holding its big-gun cleanup efforts for when they see revenues going down. That would be insane. Nevertheless, these people like being a part of a group that stands for something. Good for them.

And of course, bad for BP. While as a consumer I’m not sure what to do regarding my loyalty to BP, as a PR specialist, here’s where I would start:

1. Create an official presence on Facebook. From what I can find, BP doesn’t have an official Facebook presence. That’s a bad choice for a company anytime. Throw up a fan page, make it open to comments. People are going to bad mouth you on Facebook; give them your actual presence so they can do it in a place where a) you can easily monitor it, b) you can provide responses, and c) where people actually feel like they’re being heard. In this situation, go a step further and provide in the “info” section some names and titles so people will know who they’re engaging with. BP is already doing this on their Web site: move it to Facebook, too. That’s where most people are.

2. Find an endorsement from an environmentalist. Whether it’s U.S. News rankings or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, third-party validations are priceless. BP needs to find an environmentalist or a group that can validate that it’s on the right track toward making this situation right, while acknowledging that correcting the situation will not happen overnight. Sure, it won’t be easy. But try. And then hold a press conference.

3. Establish a spokesperson to which we can relate. People—happy or unhappy—need to be able to relate to the person trying to give them a message. BP needs to implement a spokesperson that this Louisiana-area population can relate to; of course it’s our first inclination to put our chief officer at the helm, but BP CEO Tony Hayward isn’t always the most effective choice of messenger. Keep him on standby at all times, of course, but vary it from time to time.

4. Take an advertising cue from Toyota. You know those TV commercials we all keep seeing from Toyota about how they’re still the quality company they always have been and now they’re working harder to make sure they don’t lose your trust again? Put those same messages out there, BP. Make the commercials simple, inexpensive to produce, and as organic as you can.

5. Shave your heads. Yep. As many BP decision-makers as possible should shave their heads for one of these organizations collecting it to create mats, booms and “oil socks.” Then donate a small sum of money to them. It’s not going to clean up the oil spill, but it is a tangible, down-home gesture. And it would lighten the mood.

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Britney’s retouched photos: just part of the advertising game?

It doesn’t take a marketing professional to tell you that the hamburger in the advertisement doesn’t look exactly like the hamburger you’re going to get at the restaurant. It isn’t as big, colorful or juicy. And the woman’s hair in the shampoo commercial? She had a lot of stuff done to her hair to make it look that shiny.

This isn’t false advertising; this is “puffery,” and it’s perfectly legal. In order to make a product stand out among competition, it must be presented in the best possible light. This doesn’t mean claiming that a product does something it doesn’t really do. That’s lying. Some puffery is a necessary part of advertising.

The Huffington Post published an article on April 13, Britney Spears Reveals Unretouched Candies Ads. Look at the two before and after photos of Britney that they feature: Is this puffery? Or is this lying?

It’s puffery. It’s legal. And it’s irresponsible. Striving for unrealistic perfection in a hamburger isn’t the same as striving for unrealistic perfection of a human body.

I’ll never forget this: When I was a grad student in New York, getting an M.S. in publishing, we took a class trip to a major magazine publisher. We visited the offices of a men’s magazine and met a graphic designer who was working on the cover for the magazine’s first-ever woman of the year. She appears on the cover topless (of course).

The designer showed us the before cover and the cover he was altering. Elbow wrinkles, stomach wrinkles…all gone. The celebrity was smoothed out.

As is Britney in these ads. A commenter on the Huffington Post piece mentioned this, and it’s the first thing I noticed, too: Look how strong and muscular and sexy her calves are in the before pictures. In the after pictures, they’ve been smoothed out and elongated. What’s this obsession with smoothing out everyone?

The first thing we marketers need to do before even considering an advertising campaign is to know our audience. Let’s figure out what audience these Britney photos are for:

This advertising campaign with Britney is for Candies. Candies’ brand encompasses clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories geared toward “juniors” and “girls.” How do we know this? The Candies line is sold at one department store exclusively; go to that department store’s Web site, and Candies is found under “juniors” and “girls.” I’d say “girls” range in age 7 to 12, and “juniors” are teenagers.

Part of knowing your audience is understanding its basic demographics; another part is understanding and discovering basic psychological stages of the target group. From the age of at least seven through at least the next 10 years, the female brain is going through a lot. We’re trying to break free, we’re trying to love, we’re trying to find ourselves, we’re trying to conform and we’re trying on different personalities until we find the right one. It’s a freak show inside our heads as our hormone levels increase, and we absorb everything, and we take it all very personally.

Bingo. We. Absorb. Everything.

In second grade, my teacher asked us to write down our New Year’s resolutions. I lost mine, apparently, but didn’t realize it. My teacher found it lying on the floor, and I hadn’t put my name on it, so in order to figure out whose it was, she read the resolutions out loud. One of my resolutions was to lose weight. I was mortified. I remember not saying anything, too embarrassed to raise my hand and claim my resolutions.

I was 7. Do we really think these self-image problems have dissipated? That we’ve become such a developed nation, with our advanced technologies and enlightenment, that we’ve solved all these problems?

I know, I know – this is an argument everyone’s heard before. It’s old news, right? I agree. Understanding and protecting your audience is a big part of corporate social responsibility. So let’s be serious about understanding our target audiences and consumer groups. Let’s work with them to form our product and product promotion around strengths and abilities, not around insecurities and wishful thinking.

And, of course, one advertising campaign can’t be wholly blamed for someone’s negative self image. In looking back at my second-grade self, I don’t recall any pop culture icons influencing my (ridiculous) idea that I needed to lose weight. The same can’t be said for all girls and especially these days: there are way more pop culture influences in 2010 than there were in 1990. We’ve even developed a word to describe this pop-culture influenced group: tweens.

But that’s the point: seeing subjects in an advertising campaign didn’t cause me to want to lose weight when I was seven years old. Something else was the influence. Was it a normal part of maturation of the female brain? Regardless, unreal images of women that young girls are being exposed to do not help with ideas and perceptions that are already present in the psyche.

So what should we do as marketers? Obviously advertising campaigns like Britney’s for Candies work: they sell products and that results in revenue. But at what cost to consumers? Do “girls” and “juniors” see Britney’s body as ideal and want to be like her at the age of 10 or 11? Is this a short-term desire that goes away as a girl ages and becomes more realistic about and comfortable with her individuality and sexuality?

Or does this puffery combine with all of the other stimulants in our society to create long-term problems for women? And will changing the way we advertise certain products help?

It couldn’t hurt.

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Advertising: Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?


“America the Beautiful” is a 2007 documentary by director Darryl Roberts that sets outs to answer the question “Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?”

He begins the documentary by introducing us to Gerren, “every man’s dream,” a model by profession, strutting her long, lean body in a bikini on a rooftop full of other models, naked in a swimming pool, and booze being poured all around her.

“Now, I don’t want you to think I’m prudish or anything,” Roberts says sarcastically, “But I guess I forgot to tell you, Gerren’s only 12 years old.”

He then talks to another 12-year-old, Ashley, an African-American girl with similar qualities to Gerren, and with an obvious freshness and youthful innocence, just like what Gerren exudes.

“I never thought I was pretty,” Ashley says. “I just think I’m ugly.”

But why? Roberts keeps asking.

“I don’t have a certain reason, I just think it,” Ashley continues, smiling nervously. “No one’s ever told me, but I’m sure people think I’m ugly.

“There are only two girls I think that aren’t prettier than me,” she says. Why aren’t they pretty than you? Roberts asks.

“‘Cause they’re really, really ugly,” says Ashley, and she names off four or five famous women she considers to be pretty.

So starts the documentary, a 70-minute film that centers around the life of Gerren, the 12-year-old model, and analyzes the forces surrounding her on a daily basis, the forces Roberts is convinced influences both Gerren and Ashley’s polar-opposite behavior: targeted advertising and editorial content in magazines, television and billboards that unrealistically portray a standard of beauty that doesn’t exist.

Here are some interesting quotes from industry folks who contributed to the film. As a marketing professional, you walk a fine line when you voice an opinion on a topic as sensitive as this. But then again, marketing professionals have choices in what they choose to promote.

Some food for thought (notice: these folks held these titles as of the making of this film.):

Denise Fedewa, marketing planner at Leo Burnett Advertising, comments on the beauty-product advertising industry: “I think that was true for a long time: establish a problem and position yourself as the solution.” Denise runs the beauty campaigns for L’oreal Paris and Proctor & Gamble.

She continues: “Women are at different places in terms of how beauty-involved they are. There are some women at the top end that are super beauty-involved. They just enjoy it. There’s another group of the same super beauty-involved women who I do feel a little sorry for. They’re almost kind of vic – they are kind of the victims. They always hate the way they look, and they always want to look better. They don’t have very much self-esteem. So they try to boost their self-esteem with trying to conform to the standards, and they’re never happy. And so they are often the target for a lot of these products.”

Roberts cuts to a high school class in Vancouver, Washington, where students are taught about deciphering advertisements. The class has created what the teacher calls their “Great Wall of Porn,” a large bulletin board where they’ve posted cutouts of sexual images from print advertisements. Images that, the teacher and students say, blatantly sell sex instead of a product, especially since, as the teacher points out, sometimes a product isn’t even present in its ad.

Editors-in-chief of Cosmo Girl, Seventeen and Elle magazines:

Cosmo girl: Susan Schulz, “I’m not going to say it’s not partly the media’s fault,” Schulz says, citing airbrushed photos where there are no zits and no hairs out of place. “We could change, but if we change then we won’t make as much money, and when it comes to the bottom line, if you’re not gonna make the money, people look at what’s the point?

Seventeen: Atoosa Rubenstein, “I don’t think that advertisers or marketers are these people who want to make anyone feel bad. They just want to make a buck. I’m somebody that a lot of very big advertisers bring in when they want to figure out how to get that teen audience.

Elle Girl: Brandon Holley, “We’re not the only ones promoting a body type that is –I mean, there’s a billboard of Jenna Jameson right there (she points out her window), the most famous porn star of all time, wearing almost nothing. And how many thousands of kids walk by that billboard?”

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